Criticism over the recent Qatar recruitment exercise in Ghana has taken on a different dimension, with the Al-Jaber group, and their local agents, Rahman Consultancy Limited, now facing allegations of human trafficking.
After the arrival of the first batch of Ghanaians to the oil-rich Qatar three months ago, several disgruntled workers complained of conditions there, resulting in a Government fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations.
Workers claimed that housing and food was poor, that they had not been paid and that their passports had been taken from them by their employers.
Of the two government delegations consequently sent to Qatar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had refuted the allegations, whilst Ministry of Manpower Youth and Employment is yet to make their findings public.
Meanwhile, human rights groups in Ghana remain concerned.
"Technically, if what we have heard so far from those who were recruited to Qatar is anything to go by, then the Qatar recruitment constitutes human trafficking,� says Tuinese Edward Amuzu, Associate Executive Director of the Legal Resources Centre.
He challenged the perception that the recruitment is legal and transparent.
�If any one thinks otherwise, let them come out with the appropriate document to prove it,� he added.
Speaking to The Saturday Statesman, Mr Amuzu observed that the Qatar recruitment process clearly has elements constituting trafficking as defined by Human Trafficking Act 694. For instance, recruitment and transportation and the means of trafficking, such as deception and fraud, all fall under the law's scope.
He further reiterated the need for the Human Trafficking Act 694 to be fine-tuned. �Personally, the law as it stands now does not make sense to me; it is too wide and can be manipulated,� he concluded.
However, Al-Wahab, the International Relations and Communication Director of Rahman Consult, denies all suggestions of human trafficking.
He said human trafficking can only be established when a person is forced, put under duress or paid demeaning salary for his labour, but none of the people that were recruited for Qatar were subject to such treatments.
�A contract was signed between us and those recruited. We ensured that those who do not understand the contract bring along someone to explain it to them, before they appended their signature,� he added.
A copy of the contract, which The Statesman has in its possession, indicates that this job placement is for an initial working period of two years, which is renewable upon mutual agreement soon after expiration of the first contract. It includes a vacation leave at the end of every calendar year and a one way ticket to visit home and upon return a refund for your ticket.
The workers are to be paid in US dollars or its equivalent of Qatari Riyal.
As part of the code of conduct for the contract, the artisans and labourers are required to observe the rules and regulations of the States of Qatar. They are to obey the rules, regulations and instructions of the company.
The contract allows that should a worker go contrary to the agreement, he should be deported to Ghana at his cost.
Mr Al-Wahab observed that Rahman Consultancy is a responsible and law-abiding company that has fulfilled all the necessary labour laws in Ghana. �Our operations were investigated thoroughly by the national security apparatus before we were given the green light to undertake the recruitment,� he said.
He pointed out that investigations by Rahman Consultancy Limited into the allegations being spread around indicates that the few that have been complaining and dragging the company"s name in the mud were those who could not control their sexual desires, and also those who had wanted to use the programme as a springboard to Europe.
�Qatar is a royal Islamic country that has strict moral values. They do things differently from the way we do things here in Ghana, which some of our people could not tolerate. But instead of admitting this they started making allegations concerning the programme. Even as we speak, some of those who were repatriated were begging us to send them back.�
He said they made those who applied for the recruitment aware of the circumstances surrounding the job before they left for Qatar.
Kojo Asante, Governance and Legal Policy Officer of the Centre for Democratic Development, described the assertion that the recruitment constituted human trafficking as �dicey�, but added his voice to the need to fine-tune the definition of the Human Trafficking Act 694.
He said it would be very difficult for a person to claim that the Qatar recruitment is human trafficking or otherwise, due to the nature of the Human Trafficking Act and possibilities for different interpretations.
The Act defines �coercion� as a threat of serious injury to or physical restraint against a person, a scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that the failure to perform an act will result in serious injury to or physical restraint of a person. It fails to define �deception�.
�One should also look at the contract the people signed whilst in Ghana, and what they were being given now, and if there is a difference does that action amount to deception, before starting to point accusing fingers at people.�
He observed that another issue that makes it difficult to determine if the Qatar recruitment amounts to trafficking was due to the unavailability of human trafficking cases to be used as a case study. �I am not even sure if anybody has been arraigned before the court with this law since its passage,� he added.
He indicated that although the human trafficking act deserves fine-tuning, it is up to the Judiciary to test its usability. �You can not determine the impact of a law until you use it,� he concluded.
However, for the Deputy Commissioner for Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Richard Quayson, caution has to be taken whenever issues of such magnitude are concerned, although he was unable to comment more fully until CHRAJ has been able to do the necessary investigations.